Author’s Note: Out of the nest and into the wild. Only this time with eyes and hearts open.
Kaffi ruffled his wings and waited for Diwa to complete his own travel checklist. It was still quite early in the morning, but he was already itching to go. After all, this was their maiden flight to Panooria, and their first long-distance flight. They’d planned on an early departure so they could take their time and treat it a little like a short vacation from the estate as well. That had been his paddir’s suggestion, having reminded him that he and Samuel had spent far more time just being together and doing mundane and enjoyable things than they did at their Tenancy Board appointment. It also relieved the stress of having to talk with the board in an official manner as their estate’s top representatives. Not that Graymar had ever complained outright about that…their Board caseworker was also an extremely amiable hedraac and a close friend.
There wasn’t as much paperwork this time out, but Diwa had packed an overnight bag that he’d strapped to his back, and he’d filled his pockets with travel items he felt were important. Kaffi had his own travel bag strapped to his underside, and chances were good they’d be carrying a few more things on the trip home. They’d probably overprepared with all these extra items, but he didn’t mind. He could handle this weight easily.
Diwa dedicated so much time and patience to his preparations that Kaffi was not worried about their trip. He’d worked closely with Samuel over the last couple of days, informing the board of their impending arrival, reserving overnight accommodations at their halfway point, and ensuring they had enough money for any spending or emergencies.
By the time Diwa had finished doing his own personal check of securing his bags and safety precautions, Samuel and Graymar had arrived on the roof of Building C to see them off and Kaffi’s wings shivered with delight. Seeing his paddir right now made him happy…knowing that he watched him with pride and trusted they would complete this important task in their place had lifted his heart immeasurably. Graymar had strolled over to him, placing both hands on his shoulders. He looked so frail now, but he still refused to give up so easily.
“Have a safe flight, pahyoh,” he said softly.
Kaffi’s voice caught, but he fought through it. “Thank you, paddir. We’ll let you know once we’re at the inn.”
“Good. I am proud of you, Kaffi. You will do well.”
Eiyah, how could he respond to that? The bridge of his snout burned, and tears formed at the corners of his eyes. But somehow, he managed to respond with a slow, confident hum of appreciation and joy.
They completed the last pre-flight check list and soon they were off and away exactly on schedule. Kaffi felt a surge of excitement throughout his entire body as he beat his wings hard and strong, lifting them high into the sky. He heard Diwa at his back, laughing and clearly enjoying the ride. The weather was on their side today; the sky was completely clear, the air was warm, and he’d caught a perfect wind and ascended ever higher. They circled one last time around the estate, waving to their fathers – and to Anna-Nassi and Cole, who’d just arrived beside them, cheering them on – and started heading north.
It was much cooler out over the water and the wind bit at his scales, sending shivers through his body. Diwa didn’t say much at all, other than commenting on the view or humming in response to anything he’d said. He reminded himself to stay calm, not to overthink this trip they’d just embarked on. They were both just as nervous as they were excited…once they flew past the outer rim of the city center, they’d be flying in new territory. The best and smartest thing to do was to take it as it came, without worry or fear.
They’d planned to fly directly to the same stopover their paddir always chose, landing by late afternoon and staying overnight at their favored inn before heading further north. Samuel even went so far to give both Kaffi and Diwa a list of shops and points of interest they could visit while there. He was looking forward to that part of the trip more than going to the Tenancy Board, to be honest. They’d have to be on their best behavior once in Panooria, but in the small villages and towns, they could be themselves and explore to their heart’s content.
Before long, they approached the city and he adjusted his altitude, catching a strong wind and slowly ascending. “Everything okay up there?” he asked.
“As always,” Diwa said, touching him on the shoulder. “You need a break?”
“I’m fine for now,” he said. “Besides, I just caught a great northern wind, this will push us up and over the skyline. As long as I steer clear of the downtown cluster, we shouldn’t have any issues.”
“Good to know,” Diwa said. He felt Diwa’s legs tighten just a little.
Kaffi laughed at him. “Nervous?” he teased.
“A little,” he said. “But I trust you.”
He’d gotten used to Diwa’s lingering fear of heights. It rarely kicked in, but every now and again he could feel him start to tense up. The first time it happened, Kaffi had been flying a little too fast on a straightaway between the co-op farm and the estate and hadn’t realized that he’d been gaining altitude in the process. He knew the signs; Diwa’s legs would start to clamp together against his sides and he’d lean forward to grip the handles, and the saddle would feel stiff on his back. Kaffi had been mad at himself for not paying attention earlier, so he’d resolved to do a better job. He would always ask Diwa how he was feeling and adjust when necessary.
Every single time, no matter what the height, Diwa would respond the same.
I trust you.
It warmed his heart every time he heard that.
They lifted up and over the city skyline, well enough away that they’d avoid any crosswinds but close enough that they could enjoy the view. Diwa took numerous pictures with his phone and emailed a few to their paddir just for fun and to let them know they were already on their way into new territory. They caught another breeze that drove them away from the highway that followed the Siisha River and closer towards a wide and straight valley that would take them closer to their stopover point. It was an easy path for both to reckon and remember. This was the farthest Kaffi had ever flown on one trip, even during his vacations with family or the journeys to Mount Laimora. All he had to go on now was his paddir’s directions and Diwa’s maps.
He felt Diwa shifting again, this time leaning upwards to stretch his back and quench his thirst. He said nothing, but he didn’t have to. He’d trusted him to keep them both balanced and stable just by sensing his movements.
This was new territory for them both, and Kaffi was excited. And happy in the fact that he would be learning this with Diwa every step of the way.
They arrived at the public landing area on the edge of the town center early that afternoon, just past lunchtime and well ahead of schedule, and they were both ravenously hungry. After going through their post-flight stretches and dropping their things off at the inn, they headed out to the main shopping district. They found the café up the street that Samuel had recommended and ordered something to eat.
Diwa could not get over the fact that he was here, halfway to Panooria. It wasn’t just the fact that they were on official business for the first time, though…it was that he was here with Kaffi, in a completely new place that neither of them had visited before. They weren’t here for the hell of it, not like they normally would when they took flight away from the estate or even their occasional visits to the co-op. It was a connection he couldn’t quite explain. Tied to their bond, but on a different level. This felt like the start of something bigger, something that would change their lives. That this was the first step in a long life together.
Diwa’s heart leapt every time he thought about it. This was everything he’d wanted, and more.
After eating and resting up, they walked through the shopping district near the town green. He watched with amusement as Kaffi drank in all the colors and sounds and shapes while they strolled through the textile stalls. Every fresh bolt of cloth and clattering bag of beads sparked excitement he could barely contain.
“Anything calling out to you?” he asked, sidling up to him.
“Eiyah, what isn’t calling out to me?” he chirped, bouncing on his hinds and utterly unable to keep his wings still. “Dee, this market is amazing!” He glanced at the stall’s keeper and bowed slightly, asking detailed questions about the quality and the prices of the cloth, whether they delivered, and offering a long thread of tintrite compliments afterwards. “If we weren’t tied down with other things, I’d buy up half this street!” he giggled, nudging Diwa. “Eiyah, I sound like Annie, don’t I? I need to calm myself!”
Diwa laughed along with him, just as excited and fascinated by it all. He even kept a mental tally on everything that had caught Kaffi’s eye, always taking any business cards or brochures if they were offered. There were expensive baubles and fancy saddle blankets; there were cheaper collectibles and playful costume jewelry; there were collections of lovely beads large and small. Kaffi hummed in delight the entire time, completely at ease and believing this had to be the best day ever. By the time they’d finished, they’d made a list of sellers they’d want to contact in the future. Kaffi had been so impressed by it all that he’d had a brainstorm: this could be a new avenue for trading for their estate. Several of the committee members back home were avid crafters of armbands, quilts and other textiles, and this was a perfect market for selling them, perhaps on commission or by teaming up with some of the sellers here. Diwa thought it was a fantastic idea and let him take full ownership of that plan, knowing he’d be the best one for it.
They took their own time heading back to the inn, strolling through the streets of this small city and taking in the sights. It was similar to Griffin Park in that its center took up no fewer than a couple of square miles, the rest stretching out into small suburbs and estates, but it was a frequent stopover for travelers on their way to or from Panooria, several miles further north. Diwa expressed a fascination with these estates, just like they had during their trip to Griffin Park, curious about how the grounds were laid out, what kind of community connection each of them had, who lived there, how they lived their lives. This would be his own long-term project: getting to know the communities in other estates in each of the places they visited and offering to connect or work with them in some way.
He felt that pang of excitement once more as they walked back to the inn – this was truly his calling. This felt right. No hesitation, no second-guessing. And he still could not get over the fact that he’d already come so close to achieving his goals.
After a hearty evening meal provided by the inn’s restaurant on the ground floor, they headed back up to their room. It was wide and high, just like Kaffi’s nestroom, with a large futon and a day bed against opposite walls, and a kotatsu for in-room dining. Having dropped all their bags and the saddle on the day bed when they’d first arrived, Diwa and Kaffi both jumped onto the futon and stretched out, the day’s travels finally catching up to them. The television was on and broadcasting the local news, though they weren’t paying too much attention to it. Kaffi had spread himself out, eyes closed, resting his head on his front paws, and was softly humming a tune. It was a song that Diwa had heard him sing before; it was a simple melody, pleasant and relaxing. Diwa had changed into his pajamas and leaned up against Kaffi’s side, reading a few pamphlets and magazines he’d picked up during their walk. Every now and again he’d reach out and tussle Kaffi’s mane, and Kaffi would lean into his hand in response.
After his song was done, Kaffi lifted his head and yawned, stretching out all his limbs. “Ai…that trip took a lot more out of me than I thought,” he said, glancing up at Diwa. “But I truly enjoyed every moment.”
“Yeah, I like it here,” Diwa said.
“You’ve been to Panooria, yes?”
“A few times,” he said. “The last time, my family and a few of my cousins from the city took the train up there some years ago. I just remember it being crowded and noisy.”
“Hmm. I haven’t been there in years myself,” he said, and laid his head back down. “Paddir says it’s changed quite a bit over the last few years. New buildings, new pedestrian malls, and a long riverfront walk that’s been getting a lot of raves. He loves it there.”
“I imagine so. He gave us quite the long list of places to see!”
Kaffi snorted a short laugh. “Yes, he did.”
Diwa was about to say something else but caught himself in a yawn as well. “Oof. I’m falling asleep here. How is it ten already? What a long day…” He started to push himself up so he could clean off the day bed, but Kaffi reached out and stopped him.
“You can stay here, Dee,” he said quietly. “There’s more than enough room on this thing.”
Diwa caught his eyes, surprised by the offer. “You’re fine with that?”
He patted the futon beside him. “Hmm.”
Diwa covered Kaffi’s hand with his and gave him a warm smile. “Okay.” He reached over for the remote, turned the television off and curled up beside him. Kaffi turned off the lights, and curled his long neck around Diwa’s head, cradling him.
Kaffi woke up well before dawn but chose not to get up just yet. An adjustment of his wings and perhaps the stretching of his arms, maybe a stifled yawn, but that was it. Diwa was burrowed in next to him, warm against his side. He hadn’t moved much at all during the night…when he was relaxed, Diwa was a very quiet sleeper. He watched him for a few minutes, his chest rising and falling slowly with every breath. His scruffy hair had fallen into his eyes; Kaffi lightly pushed it away with his talon.
He let out a slow and quiet breath, feeling troubled. He knew it was due to his father’s illness and the short time he had left on this plane of existence, but that wasn’t entirely what had been bothering him. He kept remembering the look on Diwa’s face, the look in his eyes, when he’d first told him about Graymar in Griffin Park. It was the same thought they’d had when they talked about Akkree and Daniel that afternoon bringing down that old couch. He’d thought the same thing Diwa had: what if it had been him? What if Diwa had lost him? He couldn’t bear the idea of causing him that kind of pain.
Eiyah…he thought, shaking his snout and letting out a quiet snort. No good will come of thinking of these things this early in the morning. He huffed out another breath and curled his head around, dropping it next to Diwa’s.
Diwa began to stir, just a little bit, and opened his eyes. Dark brown eyes that always looked so warm and inquisitive. He felt a flutter within and lost himself in that half-awake gaze of his and wondered how he had become so tightly bonded to this human. They’d always been the best of friends, but it had become so much more, especially when Diwa bared his emotions to him on Mount Lee. He had responded in kind, without a second thought, knowing his answer to be true. He did love this human with the deepest of his heart, and always would. There were all kinds of human-tintrite bonds out there of all levels, but he couldn’t name one as strong as theirs. Perhaps not even their paddir.
“Hmm,” Diwa said. He reached out and patted Kaffi gently on the snout.
“Hmm,” he said in return. He closed his eyes and let himself drift back into calm, dreamless sleep.